Garden Acosta first noticed Radiac in the late 1980s, when Williamsburg was a forgotten part of Brooklyn, not the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of today. As the director of El Puente, a community organization based in Williamsburg’s predominantly Latino Southside, Garden Acosta asked a group of teenagers who were interested in neighborhood environmental activism to work on Radiac as their first project.
ON THE CHEMICAL WATERFRONT
“At that time the environment was more the province of older white men on horses, the Sierra Club, certainly not of inner-city youth, or people of color,” he explains. “We had other issues that were more important. At least that is what the greater society said to us. I certainly never felt that way.”
The group called themselves the Toxic Avengers and set out researching the site and knocking on doors to speak to neighbors, most of who did not realize they lived next to a facility that stored toxic and radioactive waste. Now, nearly 20 years later and after numerous attempts to close the facility, Radiac may finally be history. Ironically, the very market forces ravaging Wiliamsburg’s long-established communities just may spell Radiac’s demise, but Garden Acosta is focused on the upside.
To Webster, Radiac is essentially an environmental justice case. “The worst facilities are often located in communities that would qualify for considerations of environmental justice if they were new permits,” Webster says. “The only reason this facility has operated for so long—even though it’s so dangerous—is because it is in a mostly minority neighborhood. It is sad that the only way things change is if a bunch of new people move in.”